A look at the infamous Fulton County jail where Trump will surrender

US Justice Department is investigating conditions at Atlanta jail amid reports of prevalent violence, unsanitary cells.

A vehicle enters the Fulton County jail in Atlanta, Georgia
A vehicle enters the Fulton County jail on August 22, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia, the United States [Dustin Chambers/Reuters]

All eyes are turning to a jail in the US state of Georgia, where former President Donald Trump is expected to surrender this week on criminal charges related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 United States election results.

Trump has said he plans to turn himself in on Thursday at the Fulton County jail, also known as the Rice Street jail, after authorities gave him and his 18 co-defendants until midday Friday to surrender.

The former president, who is comfortably leading the race for the 2024 Republican US presidential nomination, and his co-accused were indicted this month on allegations they joined a conspiracy to “unlawfully change the outcome” of the 2020 vote in Georgia.

The standard booking procedure is for defendants to be fingerprinted and to have mugshots taken before they are released on bond, which has already been set at $200,000 in Trump’s case.

Trump, who has denied any wrongdoing, did not have to have a mugshot taken during his three previous arrests this year. However, Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat recently told reporters that when it comes to a booking at his Atlanta jail, “it doesn’t matter your status”.

“We have a mugshot ready for you,” Labat said.

But before the Fulton County jail became the centre of national attention amid the Trump election interference charges, the facility was notorious for being unsanitary, unsafe and teeming with insects.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the jail currently houses more than 2,500 inmates, double the amount it was originally designed to hold in 1989.

Fifteen incarcerated people died at the jail last year, the newspaper said, and there have been four deaths reported in the past five weeks alone.

US Justice Department investigating

Last month, the US Department of Justice announced it was opening an investigation into conditions at the jail after what it said were “credible allegations that an incarcerated person died covered in insects and filth”.

The department also pointed to reports that the jail was “structurally unsafe”, that it was the site of prevalent violence causing injury and even death, and that officers were being prosecuted for using excessive force.

“People in prisons and jails are entitled to basic protections of their civil rights,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement announcing the probe.

“We launched this investigation into the Fulton County Jail based on serious allegations of unsafe, unsanitary living conditions at the jail, excessive force and violence within the jail, discrimination against incarcerated individuals with mental health issues, and failure to provide adequate medical care to incarcerated individuals,” he said.

Garland added that the review of conditions at the jail would aim to determine whether systemic violations of federal law are taking place, and if so, how to correct them.

It will also examine whether the county and the local sheriff’s office discriminate against incarcerated people with mental health issues.

A sign directs traffic to the Fulton County Jail, in Atlanta, Georgia, US
A sign directs traffic to the Fulton County jail in Atlanta, Georgia, on August 15 [Cheney Orr/Reuters]

Man’s death draws alarm

In early August, the family of a man who died in a bedbug-infested cell in the jail’s psychiatric wing reached a settlement with Fulton County over his death, their lawyers said.

Lashawn Thompson, 35, died last September, three months after he was booked into the facility. But his death gained public attention in April after one of the family’s lawyers released photos of his face and body covered in insects.

An independent autopsy released by the family in May said Thompson “was neglected to death”.

An earlier report from the Fulton County medical examiner’s office found no obvious signs of trauma on Thompson’s body, but noted a “severe bed bug infestation”. It listed his cause of death as “undetermined”.

In a statement on August 3, lawyers for the Thompson family said they were satisfied with the settlement – which has been reported to total $4m – but added that “we are nowhere near the end of this journey to full justice”.

“We will continue to work with the Thompson family –– and the community that rallied behind them –– to ensure that a tragedy like this one never happens to another family or takes one more life,” they said.

“Lashawn’s life mattered, and together, we can demand and motivate significant change in his name. That will be the legacy of Lashawn Thompson.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies